A Cognitively Accessible Public Transport System Matters
By Emily Ong
At the 2022 ADI Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Taipei, Taiwan, a few presentations were done by members of Dementia Alliance International. Among them was Emily Ong, the project lead and co-chair of the DAI - Environmental Design Special Interest Group.
Emily's presentation, "A Cognitively Accessible Public Transport System Matters," was about her involvement in Singapore Public Transport Way-finding Project as a consumer advocate with dementia.
She explained how being able to decide where to go, which mode of transport to use, and when a person wants to head out is a crucial part of living independently. When public transport is accessible, it helps people with dementia to continue to be able to participate in their communities, and have a sense of control over their life. It is a crucial aspect of autonomy that often gets overlooked by others. In addition, being able to use public transport helps to minimize social isolation and enables the person to stay connected with the environment outside their home.
An accessible public transport system also makes things easier for care partners. If a person with dementia can use transport, care partners do not need to accompany their loved ones whenever they want to go out. It also provides an indirect form of respite care for care partners.
However, cognitive accessibility in the public transport system is not understood in the same way as physical accessibility like wheel-chair access, Braille and Hearing Enhancement support. As a result, neurodivergent commuters like those with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, and others with Intellectual Disability and Dementia often find it hard to understand and use the information to help them navigate complex public spaces like an interchange.
A key highlight of the Way-finding projects is to simplify how information is presented to reduce cognitive load and make it easier for people with dementia to find their ways around. Nostalgic murals/pictures are preferred over symbols because they are more noticeable, distinguishable, memorable, and interpretable. For example, the five stones is a traditional childhood game in Singapore that the older generation would know and has special meaning to their past. As a result, using this as part of the wayfinding can helps to minimize interpretation errors of what the image is, which happens with icons/symbols.
The other reason for using familiar and identifiable pictures is that most people with dementia will not be able to rely on the mental map and use it effectively because of their short or long-term memory issues. Therefore the focus should be on easy recognition rather than expecting them to recall which area to go to take their bus. Although bus interchanges often use color codes to divide the loading zones, visual cues, like murals, can be added to give meaning to the color and make it easier to remember. For example, the purple five stones will benefit those who might find it hard to relate colors alone.
Another feature of the Way-finding Projects is the directional floor arrows which help to minimize the chance of not noticing the crucial information. These arrows are angled precisely so that people with dementia can use them intuitively and minimize interpretation errors. The angles are repeated at intervals to enable the commuters with dementia to check they are in the right direction to their destination.
The Way-finding projects utilized a co-design approach where Experts by Experience worked closely with design artists, SBS Transit and Dementia Singapore. The involvement of Experts by Experience helps to address the specific cognitive needs of people with dementia, a better understanding of the behaviors of users and their expectations and be culturally more appropriate when it comes to mural selection.
While the design of the environment is essential, Emily also stressed the importance of building a caring commuter culture where the general public knows and understands how to support those in need to promote a caring and inclusive community. A video on a caring culture was developed with input from Experts by Experience.
In conclusion, the involvement of people with dementia is a critical component of wayfinding projects. Emily hopes the "Find Your Way" collaboration will get other stakeholders interested in partnering with Dementia Experts by Experience in their dementia-related initiatives.